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House on Haunted Hill (1959) at the Silver Scream Spook Show

Yesterday, we were back in Atlanta for another trip into the past with the boys and ghouls of the Silver Scream Spook Show, although our son was wishing for another monster movie. They always promise that they’re going to scare the yell out of us, and this time, they delivered. The film was William Castle’s 1959 classic House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price, Elisha Cook Jr., and Carol Ohmart. I’d never seen it before, and I just had a ball. It’s a terrific haunted house movie, and I enjoyed every frame of it.

I told our son that it was an old horror movie, and probably not all that scary. Boy, was I mistaken.

So this one’s about a creepy party held by an eccentric millionaire at his even more eccentric wife’s behest. If any of the five guests can stay the night in this spooky old mansion – the exteriors were filmed at the downright bizarre Ennis House, which Frank Lloyd Wright designed to look like a Mayan temple – they will earn $10,000. The five guests were chosen because they are all strangers who need the money. The windows are barred, there is only one door, made of steel, and after the caretakers leave at midnight, there is no escape, and no way to phone the police when the eccentric wife hangs herself to death.

So yes, I thought it was great, and really enjoyed a startling reveal about twenty-five minutes in, when the camera lets us know that there’s somebody else in a room with actress Carolyn Craig. From there, it was half an hour of solid shocks for our kid, who was without comfort blankets and the rest of his menagerie and curled up in a tight ball next to me.

He missed the last fifteen minutes. Craig gets the wits scared out of her again when a rope somehow enters her room and she looks outside to see that on the other end of it, the ghost of the wife is outside, lit by the lightning, still with the noose around her neck. I heard a whimper and a moan and I leaned over to hear him tell me “I am really, really, super scared,” and told him to head for the lobby. I didn’t need to tell him twice. So Marie went to join him, and, after the hosts had provided one little interactive element of the movie, Professor Morte commiserated with the otherwise heroic eight year-old. Turns out when you’re that age, this really is a tremendously terrifying film.

I knew this was going to be a great presentation, because I was betting that the Spook Show gang was going to incorporate a famous element of the movie’s original release. Now, if you’ve Googled your way here without knowing anything about the Silver Scream Spook Show, quickly pop back and read our story about our first Atlanta trip for the show. This time, the show started with a silly bit of business about a haunted mirror. I’m still chuckling about Atlanta’s beloved Jim Stacy, dressed as a pirate ghost, bellowing “Turns out I’ve got a fetish for Alice in Wonderland fightin’ like Popeye!”

When House on Haunted Hill was originally released, it was with the promise that it was made in EMERGO, which meant that at a critical moment in the climax, a pulley system in the theater would activate and a skeleton would swing out from the rafters above the crowd. Well, the Plaza Theater didn’t have a pulley system, but they did have the next best thing, which was Professor Morte and one of his pals using a big wire puppet setup using the two aisles of the room. They raised a skeleton from a box placed below the screen, and with Morte in one aisle and his assistant in the other, they stalked the length of the room, with the skeleton dangling over the audience.

To say that the crowd loved this is an understatement. This was the most packed we’ve ever seen the Spook Show, with the room very nearly filled with classic film lovers. Let’s be fair: a whole lot more people want to see Vincent Price than Gorgo. And as for this film? I remember reading about EMERGO in middle school and never, ever thought I’d get the chance to actually see it played out in person.

It’s a shame that our kid missed out on the skeleton, but we visited friends and had barbecue and ice cream and got to see the dolphin show at the Georgia Aquarium and he otherwise had a great day. He’ll be telling his friends down the line that this sixty year-old movie was the scariest film he’s ever seen, but he had a great day. This was the Spook Show’s last performance of 2019, but we thanked Professor Morte in the lobby and said that we’d see him again next year.

Image credit: LyricDiscorde

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Gorgo (1961)

Back in March, we went to Atlanta for the Silver Scream Spook Show’s presentation of Paramount’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but neither the kid nor I actually enjoyed the movie all that much, so it passed without comment here. I figured that 1961’s Gorgo would go over better, and it did. It’s actually a much more entertaining film than I remembered, too.

Obviously, Gorgo is a Godzilla cash-in, which I saw once when I was in middle school on whatever UHF channel that was showing Sunday morning monster movies. I remember liking it a lot at the time, but eventually I started figuring that it was a cash-in, and therefore just an also-ran, and who needs a pale imitation when, honestly, most of those Godzilla movies aren’t all that good to start with. Refamilarizing myself with the movie by looking it up online, I was pleased to see that actor Martin Benson, one of those fellows who had a long and enviable career of being “oh yeah, that guy” in dozens and dozens of things you’ve seen, is in this, and that one of the lead characters is named Sam Slade.

Anyway, if you live within driving distance of Atlanta and you’ve never seen a Silver Scream Spook Show performance, you’re really missing out. Professor Morte and his gang of ghouls and weirdos put on a goofy comedy set before the show, with props, surprises, things going haywire, missed cues, Martians, and, this time out, magic. The Professor gives these classic sci-fi and monster movies a good introduction, and then our kid was in popcorn heaven.

Wonderfully, Gorgo turns out to have aged far, far better than I thought it would. True, the stock footage of battleships and jet fighters is obvious, and the movie suffers from not really using England’s deep bench of strong and identifiable character actors the way it should. Failing to find even a single woman to deliver a single line of dialogue is woefully unfortunate. But there’s lovely location work, greedy protagonists, very good special effects for the time, and some incredibly impressive footage of panicking crowds rushing to evacuate as London is menaced by a 200-foot tall indestructible monster.

The print was pretty poor, but this is a movie that was made with a really keen eye for detail and pleasantly surprised me with many of its story and visual choices, and I’d much rather watch it again than most of Toho’s output. And that’s with the cast it has; imagine how much more rewatchable this would have been with people like Peter Sallis or Ralph Bates or Barbara Shelley or Ingrid Pitt in it.

But the kid was even more pleased than me. This had the right amount of destruction and buildings-being-knocked-down shenanigans and was never really scary. In the lobby afterward, Professor Morte suggested that a little baby powder on a cardboard building makes for a great cloud of dust when an eight year-old boy becomes a monster in the stories he can create in the driveway or the garage. That got him thinking, and really the only thing that derailed his thoughts was when we bought a T-shirt from the merch table and the lovely ghoul assistant gave him a free whoopie cushion with our purchase.

Photo credit: Cool Ass Cinema

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Godzilla (1954) at the Silver Scream Spook Show

Listen. If you’ve got any boils and ghouls in your house under the age of ten, or if you were ever under the age of ten yourself, and you live within a hundred miles of Atlanta, I know exactly what you need to do. Continue reading

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